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COVID & Unemployment

Unemployment recipients aren’t getting support they’re eligible for, report finds

David Brancaccio and Nova Safo Dec 1, 2020
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Gig workers have received unemployment benefits many would not have been entitled to before pandemic assistance began. Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images
COVID & Unemployment

Unemployment recipients aren’t getting support they’re eligible for, report finds

David Brancaccio and Nova Safo Dec 1, 2020
Heard on:
Gig workers have received unemployment benefits many would not have been entitled to before pandemic assistance began. Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

When it comes to joblessness in this country, we’ve been miscounting and paying too little in unemployment assistance. That’s according to a new report from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office.

Marketplace’s Nova Safo joined “Marketplace Morning Report” host David Brancaccio to discuss its findings.

Nova Safo: Among the two big takeaways in this report is the finding that a lot of people have been shortchanged on the aid they’re entitled to. This has to do with the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program — that’s the one the federal government funded through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, meant for people who don’t qualify for regular state unemployment aid, like gig workers.

The Government Accountability Office found that after the $600 in weekly supplemental aid from the federal government expired over the summer, in 29 of the 41 states that reported data, unemployed people were getting paid less than the $245 a week needed to remain above the federal poverty line. That’s less than Congress intended for them to get.

David Brancaccio: And why is that?

Safo: States had a flood of claims initially, so they started by paying out the minimum amount allowed by law, just to get money out to people quickly. The idea was they’d later process documentation and proof of income, and pay back what people are owed.

In a lot of states, that still hadn’t happened as of late fall. On top of that, in 13 states, regular state unemployment aid left many people below the poverty line, as well.

In the meantime, the backlog is partly to blame for another problem, which is that we’re not getting an accurate count of how many people are jobless.

The Labor Department counts claims, not people. So if one person has multiple weeks of claims — due to the backlog, or just the way some states process [claims], doing multiple weeks at once — that can cause inflated figures.

That means we’re not getting an accurate picture of the unemployment crisis itself.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What are the details of President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief plan?

The $1.9 trillion plan would aim to speed up the vaccine rollout and provide financial help to individuals, states and local governments and businesses. Called the “American Rescue Plan,” the legislative proposal would meet Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccines by the 100th day of his administration, while advancing his objective of reopening most schools by the spring. It would also include $1,400 checks for most Americans. Get the rest of the specifics here.

What kind of help can small businesses get right now?

A new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans recently became available for pandemic-ravaged businesses. These loans don’t have to be paid back if rules are met. Right now, loans are open for first-time applicants. And the application has to go through community banking organizations — no big banks, for now, at least. This rollout is designed to help business owners who couldn’t get a PPP loan before.

What does the hiring situation in the U.S. look like as we enter the new year?

New data on job openings and postings provide a glimpse of what to expect in the job market in the coming weeks and months. This time of year typically sees a spike in hiring and job-search activity, says Jill Chapman with Insperity, a recruiting services firm. But that kind of optimistic planning for the future isn’t really the vibe these days. Job postings have been lagging on the job search site Indeed. Listings were down about 11% in December compared to a year earlier.

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